Directed by Gordon Chan. Starring Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands, John Rhys-Davies, Alex Bao. (2003, PG-13, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 22, 2003
The idea of giving Jackie Chan superpowers is something like giving Rumble in the Jungle-era Mohammed Ali superstrength: What’s the point? Gordon Chan’s The Medallion, however, does just that, and makes for one of the Peking Opera-trained superstar’s most mediocre films, rivaling last year’s God-awful The Tuxedo for sheer messy filmmaking and brazen acts of tedium. That’s not something I ever thought I’d be saying twice in one year’s time about Chan, the planet’s biggest action-comedy star, and the man who almost single-handedly made Western audiences sit up and pay attention in the post-Bruce Lee filmscape of the Seventies. His 1978 film Drunken Master redefined martial-arts films for a whole new generation, lending them not only an air of respectability that was sorely lacking to Western eyes, but also a genuine gift for physical comedy that rivaled his Hollywood heroes Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Now that Chan has broken through to widespread popular acceptance stateside with the Rush Hour and Shanghai series, his non-Hollywood films have begun to suffer. The action sequences (which, in previous films, have always been Chan’s graceful and rubber-limbed stock-in-trade) in The Medallion utilize an excess of wire-riggings to carry Chan and, in this case, baddie Julian Sands up and into the air (where the do battle à la Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), as opposed to Chan doing the stuntwork in "real time." Chan is on the cusp of 50 these days, and his goofily handsome mug is finally beginning to show some wear. He still looks like an Asian Howdy Doody, but for the first time he seems fully adult, in appearance at least. His onscreen persona, however, remains unchanged, which is either good news or bad news depending on how you feel about his ongoing penchant for broad physical slapstick and outright mugging to the camera – which may play well in the former Crown colony but too often feels just plain silly to Westerners. (Nowhere was this more apparent than in 1992’s City Hunter, which featured Chan in a barrage of eye-rolling, arm-flapping, slapstick tomfoolery that left more impressionable viewers, myself included, blind and humorless for days after.) The Medallion has Chan, inexplicably paired with Claire Forlani of Northfork, in yet another HK detective role, this time as semi-supercop Eddie Yang, who along with Forlani’s smiley Interpol officer Nicole James and Lee Evans’ inept copper Watson, is on the trail of the nasty Snakehead (Sands) and the life- and superpower-bestowing medallion of the title. So slapdash, however, is Gordon Chan’s direction that even the fight sequences (choreographed by the legendary Sammo Hung) appear to be leftovers from previous, better films. The strained romance between Chan and Forlani is wholly devoid of sparks, while Evans operates entirely within the theatre of mincing annoyance. Ultimately, it’s up to Sands, saddled with some of the worst evildoer dialogue ever penned, to make sure The Medallion is memorable, which he does all too well, cackling his way through the film like some bizarre Rutger Hauer/Snidely Whiplash hybrid. Abysmal.